The Forum, Fargo, N.D.: The response from the Fargo Catholic Diocese last week to Bishop John Folda’s bout with hepatitis was surprising and welcome. The diocese was open, honest and accessible as the story unfolded, as was the bishop.
The bishop was exposed to the hepatitis A virus during a meeting in Rome for new bishops. It was feared he exposed parishioners upon his return to duties in Fargo. He got sick (since recovered), but there have been no reports to public health officials of additional cases.
The good news about the bishop’s improved condition came with a timely announcement from the diocese and public health officials regarding the bishop’s exposure, illness and potential risk to others. But most remarkable about the situation was Folda’s personal conduct. He called a news conference at which he talked about what happened and sincerely apologized for even the remote possibility he put his parishioners at risk. Instead of a carefully structured news release or a prepared statement from a diocesan spokesperson, the bishop himself stepped up and talked to reporters and, by extension, the public.
Given the command structure at the diocese, it’s all but certain the news conference was the bishop’s call. It was the right call. Unlike practices of the recent past, this bishop seems to be amenable to engaging the community in a personal and up-front manner. He could have avoided a news conference, and no one who’s watched the diocese over the years would have been surprised.